Part of the challenge with identifying that you’re burned out is that burnout is a process, not a one-time event. Burnout is the result of chronic and consistent stress over a longer period of time. Usually, the stress is work-related, but it could be a mix of daily life stresses that sends you over the edge.
So, how do you differentiate between a stressful period of life and burnout? Isn't stress a natural part of life?
Stress is definitely part of life, but burnout is the culmination of extreme and overwhelming stress. Burnout is what happens when stress is no longer manageable, and it manifests in physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.
One way to differentiate burnout from stress is to look at some of the formal definitions of burnout. These may be helpful in identifying any symptoms that you have. Though there are varying ways to diagnose burnout, there are several clinical definitions that are well agreed upon and there’s also an assessment that has been widely used since the 1970s called the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). A doctor or therapist can help you figure out if what you’re experiencing is burnout or maybe an underlying health issue.
Another step you can take, in addition, is carving out some time for self-inquiry. If you think you’re burned out, you’re probably really strapped for time. But think of self-inquiry as an investment in yourself. Long term, carving out some time for this can save you a lot of time and energy down the line. You know yourself best, but you can only know yourself if you listen to yourself.
If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you’re not feeling that great right now. The only way to improve things is to accept them as they are right now. Self-inquiry begins with acceptance and acknowledgment of how things are in this moment.
Now try to find 15 minutes to sit with yourself, silently, to answer these questions. Put away all the other distractions. Get off your phone or laptop. Ideally, you can write these answers in a journal so that you can look back at your answers and reflect on them for a bit. You may even want to use these journal entries to bring into a therapy session, or to discuss with a loved one who can be supportive.
Here are the questions to ask yourself:
How long have I been feeling this way?
Do I have any ideas of what might be causing stress?
Am I feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis?
Am I feeling fatigued?
How well am I sleeping and eating?
Have I noticed any changes in my performance at work?
Have I noticed any changes in my attitude at home?
Have I noticed any changes in my attitude towards myself?
Have I picked up any new habits to deal with how I'm feeling?
What do I need right now? What would be helpful?
Self-inquiry is a powerful tool because it empowers you to get still and listen to yourself. Though you may be searching for the answers outside of yourself, know that you have a deep well of wisdom within. You know when you’re not feeling well. You know when something’s not right. That’s why you’ve landed on this post.
And while support is invaluable when you’re dealing with burnout, you can start by supporting yourself. Asking yourself questions and journaling your thoughts is one great way to begin this work.